My Neighbor Negged Me

Here is some important background you need to know. We used to have really awesome neighbors, who then had a couple of kids and moved down the road a way into a bigger house. They now rent their house to a couple I, until yesterday, had almost no opinion of. I did have an opinion, which was “The wife seems nice, the husband seems like he’s a mean drunk.” That was enough for me to basically avoid them. And, when I do see them or hear them, it’s either when they’re going to work when I’m walking the dog or when they’re yelling at each other. Also, my old awesome neighbor now owns my old lawnmower, since he was the only one who could keep it running when I owned it and he needed a lawnmower. He tried, recently, to pay me for it, but I refused, because, as far as I’m concerned, he saved me the bulk trash pick-up. That he later got it and kept it working is just his good luck.

Anyway, yesterday, I’m in the flower bed under the trees, cutting down privet and the dude comes over, “What are you doing?” “Cutting down privet.” What was your name again?” “Betsy.” “Oh, right. I don’t know why I can’t remember that. I know it. Hey, didn’t you say you worked at Vanderbilt?” “Yes.” “What do you think about them hating Christians?”

So, we get into this incredibly uncomfortable discussion in which I try solely to focus on the idea that he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who likes the government telling him what to do–and he doesn’t–so he should be uncomfortable with the government setting the definition of Christianity. And I keep repeating that the State doesn’t get to say who’s a Christian. And he’s all “It’s not a problem. It’s obvious who’s a Christian. John 3:16. There’s no problem. It’s obvious.”

Until finally he says, “Well, I don’t want to argue about politics or religion when I’m drinking.” People. He came into my yard! And then he says, “But my brother is a minister, a real minister, who went to school and everything.”

And that’s how he ends the argument. I kept waiting for him to say “And my brother says…” but no. Just the end to the “discussion” is that his brother is a minister. Like that counts for anything when it comes to his opinions.

And then we enter phase two of the bizarro conversation. He goes off to the bathroom or something and his wife is explaining how they don’t like their landlord to mow their lawn, because they think he does a crappy job. So whenever the weather is nice, she mows the lawn so that, when my old neighbor calls to say he’ll come by in the morning to mow it, she can tell him it’s already done.

Then the dude comes back out. He’s explaining how he finally convinced our old neighbor to let him put vegetable beds in the front yard, where it’s sunny. And then he says–and this is where I thought, “Hmm, I’m being negged, here, like some chick in a pick-up-artist’s sights”–“Your yard looks like shit. No offense. But I can tell that [the Butcher] doesn’t really care about it.” Then he proceeds to tell me all the things wrong with my lawn and all the ways that the Butcher is obviously failing to maintain it. And I’m all like “Well, maybe, but the yard’s his thing and I’m not going to stand over him and make sure he does it how you’d want it done.” Which you’d think would be a huge clue to just back the fuck off, since even saying it outloud sounds so fucked the fuck up. But no, it’s like he doesn’t even hear me. He’s all going on about how he can tell that the Butcher doesn’t sharpen the blades enough and the blades are probably ruined by now and I should just expect to pay to replace them. About how he’s been dying to do something about/with my greenhouse and why hasn’t the Butcher chopped down the trees around it?

And on and on about how much the Butcher sucks and he’s sorry to be saying it and about how shitty my yard looks and he’s sorry to be saying that.

And then comes the offer–“I’ll maintain your mower and mow your lawn, too, if you let me use the mower to mow my lawn.. Just think about it.”

And then, I got the sense that he realized that, if I thought more about it, I was going to run screaming into the night, because he was all “I don’t mind. I used to be a landscape guy.” Etc. All this stuff about how he was well-qualified to do it.

But let me repeat, he’s insulting my yard and my brother in order to get his hands on my mower because he wants to use it to mow his yard, which his landlord would prefer to mow. His landlord, who has always been good to us and who we like. And the dude is offering to mow our lawn, even though his wife has already admitted to me that she’s the one who mows theirs! So, really, he’s trying to make some “deal” on her behalf.

And did I also mention that, in the whole course of this bizarre conversation, he’s also telling me about all the guns he owns and the things he likes to shoot? (And let me be clear, I didn’t take this as a threat about “So, I could kill you if you don’t go along with my weird lawnmower scheme” but more about how he was, I think, trying to demonstrate how powerful he was.) And about how there’s just some stuff I don’t know about the world, since I’m from here? (Which I also thought seemed like a pick-up artist move–to confidently make guesses about a person that make it seem like you know more about her than you possibly could.)

The whole thing just felt like: Step one: put B. on the defensive with some bizarro argument. Step two: insult her lawn and the ability of “her man” to properly maintain it. Step three: demonstrate power and prowess. Step four: demonstrate a mastery of things she couldn’t possibly have. Step five: get her to give us her lawnmower.

The whole thing was just… ugh… so fucking weird. And the whole time it was happening, he had his shirt off and was just rubbing his belly.

And I came inside and I just felt like I’d been in-person attacked by an internet troll.

And So It Begins

Southerners, let me tell you something you may not know. We Midwesterners, especially those of us who either grew up near the Chicagoland area or who have family there have a secret barb we throw at each other. Say you are somewhere where you would not expect to meet another Midwesterner–in this case, we could say, right ahead of you in the checkout line in Kroger.

And the Chicagoland person might not recognize you as being from the Midwest, so he or she will say “I’m from Chicago.”

We then say, “Oh, really? Where?” You might not recognize this, but this is how we signal, “I suspect you’re being a douche.”

Now, here’s the important thing to know. At this moment, there is a non-douchy reply. A non-douche right then is either going to ‘fess up to the city he’s actually from–“Well, I’m actually from Aurora, but it’s been so long since Wayne’s World, that I usually just say Chicago” or they’ll give you a neighborhood or a set of cross streets (which may be in Chicago or in the suburbs)–“I grew up on Michigan and 119th.” or “My Grandma lives off of 151st.” And you have a general idea then of where they’re actually from, with all the attendant stereotypes that go along with that. But right away, they’re going to respect that you asked “Where?” because you have some familiarity with the area.

But there’s always some asshole who will still try to just say “Chicago” or worse yet, “It’s too hard to explain. You wouldn’t have heard of it.” These folks always seem to think there’s some great cultural cache to living in actual Chicago, which they want you to believe they have, but they’ve moved out to the suburbs (or have always lived in the suburbs) and are just borrowing your opinions on Chicago for their own cred.

If you press them, they will eventually confess to being from, say, Lockport. And then they kind of sulk, because now they know you know they’re not actually from Chicago.

I mention this, because it may be necessary to start this nonsense here. I read this in The Tennessean this morning:

“I certainly explored the idea of going on Music Row, but it occurred to me that people don’t really care where your office is. Not everybody is on Music Row anymore,” O’Sullivan said. “There might be people that will say it’s not a good idea to be there, but to me, Franklin is Nashville. It’s just another ZIP code.”

I like Franklin a great deal. It’s not Nashville. If people want to live in Franklin, more power to them. It’s charming and has a lovely, walkable downtown and is full of history stuff I love to go look at. If people want to work in Franklin, again, no problem. I drove down to Franklin at the height of rush hour on Friday morning. It’s a lovely reverse commute if you live in Nashville.

But it’s not Nashville. It’s its own lovely place with a lot to offer.

You start calling it Nashville and I’m going to laugh, openly, at you when I realize that’s what you’re doing.